"This play is about control over a woman’s past, present and future. It is about how the patriarchy works systematically to pummel this woman into a submissive, diluted and palatable being." Director and Theatre Works literary manager Briony Dunn chats with us about her latest project The Human Voice by Jean Cocteau, starring Jane Montgomery GriffIths.
Q: How did you come across this play and do you remember your reaction after your initial read?
A: Actually one of the TW team mentioned the play to me when they knew I was looking for one-handers. I’m a Cocteau fan and had read it about 15 years ago but couldn’t remember a great deal so was keen to revisit it.
Q: What are some themes in the play that are as relevant today as they were when the play was first staged in 1930?
A: This play is about control over a woman’s past, present and future. It is about how the patriarchy works systematically to pummel this woman into a submissive, diluted and palatable being.
I think if you’re going to do this play and have her as some kind of girl/woman who hasn’t grown up yet you’re in trouble. You have to face it head on and say “this happens to women”. Not “this happens to women because they’re young.” When I read it again I really noticed the themes of control, patriarchal of what it is to please another at your own subservience. I was struck with this really strong feeling that I knew this woman. That she could have been me in another era - or in the next suburb. I noticed how she is a people pleaser, wondered how gendered that was, and noticed how devastating this becomes when the person being pleased is a gaslighting abuser.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about your collaboration with dramaturg and translator Iris Gaillard?
The desire to do our own translation of this one popped into my head at the same time as Iris’ name. They were synonymous in my mind. Iris is French born and raised and also has a really detailed knowledge of Cocteau. She has taught French to English speakers for many years, her English is perfect - plus she is a consummate theatre maker and dramaturge who really understands the nuance of a particular word or passage of thought and its resonance in the theatrical space. Our process here was Iris translated outside the room and then brought it in early for us to work through it. We were revising through the whole rehearsal process with Iris in the room about 30% of the time. That gave us room to play and then her some distance to come in and go deep when we needed to.
Q: What are you currently exploring in rehearsals with actor Jane Montgomery Griffiths?
We’re currently exploring relationships on the floor - relationships between the phone, the space and Jane’s body. Both Jane and I are big text analysis nerds so it’s nice to now get physical! One of this year’s Associate Artists at Theatre Works Peta Coy has been coming in for their placement and doing some work with us, which has been such a delight to have another eye open up the text.
Q: Who would you most like to see in the audience at The Human Voice?
People pleasers like me, Jean Cocteau, and the actress Berthe Bovy who Cocteau wrote the monologue for in 1930. I’d love to show Cocteau how the voice of the women has both changed and not changed 90 years later. I’d love to chat with Bovy about her approach to the text, and say thank you for asking Cocteau to write you something meaty. THE HUMAN VOICE
by Jean Cocteau 4-14 May